Feeling a little short on cash these days? Plant some ginger in your yard and it will guarantee prosperity. Or maybe you’re apprehensive about dragons and serpents? A few stands of lemongrass around your home should effectively repel them. Looking to attract and hold onto a lover? A bath perfumed with lemongrass should do the trick. Or so certain bits of folklore from around the world would have us believe.
Whether or not these tales are true (and I must confess to a slight skepticism), there are other benefits to be derived from these aromatic plants. And rather than nutritional, the benefits to be found here are largely medicinal, with ginger proving itself to be a serious aid in combating an array of ailments, and lemongrass (also known as “fever grass”) being helpful with several common maladies.
Ginger’s most prominent effect is gastrointestinal. Got an upset stomach? Get ginger. Suffering nausea from chemotherapy? Get ginger. Prone to motion sickness? Get ginger. Studies have proven that the ingestion of small amounts of ginger can eliminate intestinal gas and alleviate multiple symptoms of motion sickness; and because it has no known side effects, ginger is especially useful for morning sickness in pregnant women, as it poses none of the risks that nausea medicines might create.
And its usefulness doesn’t stop there. Ginger contains powerful anti-inflammatory compounds called gingerols; in numerous studies, consumption of ginger has been linked to relief from arthritis symptoms. Some in-vitro studies have also suggested that gingerols may inhibit the growth of colorectal cancer cells and cause the death of ovarian cancer cells.
Lemongrass is a bit more mundane in its benefits, but no less desirable. In Ayurvedic medicine, it is used to treat coughs and nasal congestion. The essential oil derived from lemongrass is
used to repel insects, employed in soaps as an antiseptic, and applied to the skin to combat fungal infections. And a friend of mine who grew up in the South informed me that whenever she had a fever as a child, her grandmother invariably brewed a posset of “fever grass” to fight it.
Also, a recent study suggests that lemongrass may share one of the properties of ginger: research at Ben-Gurion University in Israel indicated that in vitro, the active ingredient in lemongrass, citral, caused the death of cancer cells while leaving normal cells untouched.
So whether you use them to treat an existing condition, or ward off a potential one, ginger and lemongrass are excellent additions to your culinary health arsenal. Maybe you won’t get rich, or find a paramour, or even escape from dragons; but your body will thank you anyway.
The "Other" Ginger
If you're a fan of Asian cooking, you may have run across recipes calling for galangal, which usually suggest ginger as a substitute. That's because ginger and galangal come from the same family; and that being so, galangal has many of the same beneficial effects as ginger.
They look similar, too, though galangal is paler and harder to cut. But the flavor of the galangal is more nuanced and intriguing. Rather than the aggressive bite of ginger, you'll find a milder heat with hints of citrus and notes of pine and earth.
So when a recipe calls for galangal, make an effort to find some—it's a unique culinary treat. Most Asian markets will have some on hand, and it makes an awesomely subtle tea that offers the same health benefits as ginger.
Asian Rice Salad
Serve this with shredded lettuce as a light luncheon, or pair with some grilled teriyaki chicken and stir-fry veggies for a satisfying supper. Sambal oelek is a hot chili sauce available at Asian markets and some supermarkets.
1 cup organic brown rice
1 cup vegetable broth
1 cup water
1 Tbs. peeled, minced fresh ginger
1 tsp. minced lemongrass, white part only
2/3 cup diced carrots
1/2 cup cooked green peas
1/3 cup sliced green onions
2 Tbs. fresh lime juice
1 Tbs. rice wine vinegar
1 tsp. sesame oil
2 Tbs. canola oil
1 tsp. soy sauce
1/2 tsp. grated lime zest
1/2 tsp. sambal oelek, optional
PER SERVING: 286 CAL; 5 G PROT; 10 G TOTAL FAT ( 1 G SAT FAT); 45 G CARB; 0 MG CHOL; 150 MG SOD; 5 G FIBER; 3 G SUGARS
Invigorating Thai Iced Tea
1/4 cup peeled fresh ginger, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup diagonally-sliced lemongrass
8 green tea bags
1/4 cup organic honey
1 quart boiling water
1/2 cup lite organic coconut milk
Add ginger, lemongrass, green tea, and honey to boiling water, and steep 10 minutes. Strain into large beverage container, and stir in coconut milk. Chill thoroughly. Serve over crushed ice with fresh mint.
PER SERVING: 90 CAL; <1 G PROT; 2.5 G TOTAL FAT ( 1.5 G SAT FAT); 18 G CARB; 0 MG CHOL; 3 MG SOD; <1 G FIBER; 17 G SUGARS